January 24th, 2012

chinese cherry

Year of the Water Dragon

The Chinese New Year officially began yesterday and from what I'm told, it's the year of the Water Dragon. I heard somewhere that for some inexplicable reason (to me anyway) this year is considered to be more auspicious than normal. Just like the year of the Golden Pig several back, it's a good luck charm of sorts to be born this year. This means that there are no doubt a good percentage of the billion or so Chinese people out there furiously going at it like rabbits to grant their perspective children that extra little bit of divine providence. They've got another 3 months or so to plant the fields if they want to make the deadline.

Frankly, I've never quite understood Chinese horoscope. It always seemed weird to attribute some global effect to every single person born in a whole year. I mean, what could you sensibly say about population that large which would somehow apply, in some way, to everyone? Then again, I guess if you view it that way the Western astrology system is even more screwed since there are only 12 signs total and everyone has to fall in it somewhere. at least with the Chinese system, there are subdivisions which only cycle every 60 years. I remember looking it up in a Chinese horoscope book I had but I believe I'm a Fire Dragon. That particular sign won't come around for another 24 years. There are, of course, even further distinctions based upon the hour of birth and other claptrap, but it all seems sorta wanky to me.

The family always gets together for Chinese New Year, though it's a lot less standardized than it used to be. In the days where we still had restaurants, the celebrations would be held there as much for the employees as for the family. It also made it easier to prepare all the various food with a full kitchen available and all it took was picking up the various ingredients needed for the feast. Since then, it's usually been held at my grandmothers place and is more low key. Our get together took place on Saturday and was pretty much just the immediate family. My mom, grandmother, Shelley, Connie came with Jeff and the kids and Uncle James brought Kaila along with Gene and Raymond. I took the opportunity to empty out my game closet a bit. Raymond had recently bought Kaila a copy of Settlers of Catan for Christmas and her and James really enjoyed it. I ended up digging through mountain of games and brought over some of the other Catan games for them: Cities and Knights, Seafarers, and Starfarers. It's unlikely I'll ever get around to playing them again and at least someone will enjoy them this way. They'd just sit and molder in the closet otherwise.

Since the last time I had seen Morgan, she had learned to crawl and can power herself about as well as stand as long as she has something to support her. She's also entered the glutinous phase that all of Connie and Jeff's children seem to have where she eats nonstop and wants to try everything. If you don't give her some of whatever you're eating or are slow to feed her, she starts making these angry grunting noises. Both Maddie and Will went through the same thing but they eventually grow out of it. Both of the older ones eventually entered the picky stage where now it's a chore to get them to eat anything and it comes with lots of cajoling and whining.

All in all, it was a pretty laid back night. I don't have any real expectations that this year will actually end up being lucky in any fundamental way, but I've pretty much learned to play the odds there. Water Dragons or polka-dotted Octopuses, it all pretty much ends up being the same.
anime fruits basket riceball

I wish for more wishes

Since I just posted recently about watching Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, it's perhaps also fitting that I recently rewatched another epic Mahou Shojou anime. I wrote about Puella Magi Madoka Magica once before earlier last year when it was airing. At the time I wrote the entry, I was only around 9 episodes through the show but was loving it and eagerly anticipating the finale. I wasn't the only one as the show was immensely popular and had a large following online. There had been a lot of buzz about it, especially after the unexpected decapitation of poor Mami in the 3rd episode. (see previous entry for details.) That pretty much said clearer than anything that this wasn't a little girl's mahou shojou show. There might be pretty outfits and a transformation sequence or two, but the bloody death part sort of puts a damper on things.

It turned out that nature conspired against all Madoka fans as right as the penultimate episode was supposed to air the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami struck, turning the country upside down. The animation company responsible for the show had its building damaged which inevitably delayed the last couple episodes. In addition, considering those last episodes consisted of an apocalyptic storm destroying a Japanese city, they figured it was only politically prudent to delay the airing indefinitely. This of course led to many smartasses on the internet claiming that the earthquake was really in fact a manifestation of Walpurgis Night and it was a plot to hide the existence of witches.

She will turn all of fate's misfortune to nothing.

She will flood the earth with magic,
and take all of humankind into her play.
A moving stage construction.

If everything is a play, no unhappy things will exist.
It may be a tragedy, but it'll all be part of the script.

The play stops on Walpurgisnacht,
and the earth does not turn even once more.
The story will not change.
Tomorrow, and the day after, is the night of Walpurgis.

It wasn't until over a month later that the last two episodes finally aired and it was worth the wait. It really was an amazing sort of wrap up to the series and I'm not the only one who came to that conclusion. It received raves from all over, and not just from the creepy otaku realm. According to Wiki:

The show won the Television Award at the 16th Animation Kobe Awards, as well as 12 NewType Anime Awards (out of 21 total awards given) and the Grand Prize for animation in the 2011 Japan Media Arts awards.

The latter of which is actually handed out by the Japanese Government's Agency for Cultural Affairs. It's probably fair to say that almost everyone who has any interest in anime at all went sort of Madoka-obsessed for a few months.

I basically described the plot in the previous entry, but I thought it would be interesting to highlight one chunk I only barely touched upon. Every time I think about Madoka, I'm reminded of that scene in the Matrix. Hell, let me just go snag a video of it from youtube.

I imagine that there must've been a 'Morpheus' or two among the puella magi over the centuries and I can see them giving a version of this speech to other girls, warning them of the incubators. In the end, the entire point of the whole wish => magical girl => despair => witch cycle is to convert the emotional lability of girls into a battery for the universe. Basically, the incubators have found a way to defeat the first law of thermodynamics, namely that energy can neither by created nor destroyed, through angst. Yes, it's true. Angst ends up providing the salvation of the universe believe it or not. By sending these girls through that cycle of hope and despair energy is created, energy which the incubators like Kuybey can harness and use to stave off the heat death of the universe.

As for the incubators themselves, while cutesy, they are completely emotionless. They actually view emotions as a form of mental illness which only crops up rarely. Thus it was to some surprise that they found an entire planet full of beings who to their perspective are completely batshit insane and yet seem to generally function. It turns out that this generalized insanity was a treasure trove of untapped energy though.

A lot of the later episodes consist in large part of the girls angsting about how unfair and cruel the system is. It's not like Kyubey was deliberately hiding the information as he just didn't volunteer any of it until they discovered bits on their own. From the incubator point of view, it's a symbiotic relationship. The granting of wishes and the sacrifice of all of these magical girls throughout history have propelled human civilization and allowed it to advance as a whole. They claim that without the incubators human beings would still be living in caves. In return, the incubators take the energy from the girls thus sacrificed and used it to keep the universe alive, which humanity will also benefit from once they reach the stars. Now, maybe it tells you something about my personality but I thought that Kyubey had a pretty good point, assuming it was all the truth. The internet as a whole vehemently disagreed. It's seldom you'll find any character more generally loathed than Kyubey.

It's generally believed that he and his race have nothing but evil intentions and their goal is to trick young girls into making contracts. My perspective is that if that were really the idea, they would have gone about it in a far more sneaky and nefarious way. Not to mention they probably wouldn't have so readily offered the truth when actually asked about it. This just tells you that if anyone ever offers you a magical wish, that you should take some time and read the damn fine print before deciding just how many zeros are in a trillion.

I won't spoil the final ending of the anime in case anyone out there still wants to see it eventually. It's really worth the time IMO. If nothing else, you need at least a smattering of Madoka knowledge to get half of the anime memes running around nowadays. So I'll leave it there with a Madoka/Portal mashup I found which I thought was hilarious.

alphabet wtf

As an elephant's eye

I just had the weirdest dream. I dozed off a couple hours ago and I think my subconscious is going batty. Usually I can sort out where my dreams are coming from. The nightmares all have general themes I'm familiar with and as for the rest, a lot usually boils down to what I've been seeing or thinking of lately. If I watch a bunch of anime involving space battles and ray guns, it wouldn't be unusual to find bits and pieces of it turning up in my dreams. The one tonight wasn't strange per se, it's just that I have no clue where it came from.

For some inexplicable reason I was a reporter for NBC news and I had been sent into the sticks to do a story on the equivalent of dirt farmers. Actually, the sticks is probably generous here. It was more like the twigs. So I find the local farmer I'm supposed to do the news story on because he's found some way to farm using beat up old cars and a tractor/harvester monstrosity he built himself. I find him manning a trailer/convenience store which is apparently his other line of work selling dice and nudie cards among other things. As we shoot the breeze about how 'The Man' sucks, there's a delivery of cows and pigs and I rush over to watch the ship come in.

That's right...the ship. For some reason there are gargantuan ships that apparently sail on land and are hundreds upon hundreds of feet tall, one loaded with cows roaming around and another with pigs. As the ships stop, a cow actually falls off the bow and goes splat. I try to make my way over to the ships to I can do an interview and giant piles of pig and cow shit are falling hundreds of feet to splat on the ground on either side. I end up stepping in these monster piles. Did I mention that for some also inexplicable reason I'm no longer wearing shoes? I felt like I was trying to clop my way through a mud trap.

At that point the phone rang, I woke up, and did a mental WTF? Anyone want to analyze this piece of crap?